Western University of Health Sciences embarked on a special mission when it opened its doors in 1977 as the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP): Educating tomorrow’s health-care professionals with a combination of scientific excellence and a humanistic, compassionate approach to patient care. That philosophy has withstood the test of time, as the University over the past three decades has grown to include nine colleges and multiple research centers, and recently completed an unprecedented expansion of the campus and WesternU’s programs.
Growth was slow and steady at first. From an inaugural class of 36 students in 1978, enrollment in COMP by 1986 had grown past 400 thanks to the school’s reputation for educational excellence. In that same year, the Master of Science in Health Professions Education program paved the way for what would become the College of Allied Health Professions.
The campus kept growing over the next 10 years, as COMP continued converting buildings in the former downtown Pomona mall. Enrollment jumped dramatically in 1996, when the addition of a College of Pharmacy coincided with the campus’ name change to Western University of Health Sciences.
1998 was another landmark year for WesternU, as the College of Graduate Nursing was founded in March, and the College of Veterinary Medicine – the first veterinary college in Southern California – was established just five months later, in August 1998.
In 2006, WesternU announced it would establish three new colleges – Dental Medicine, Optometry and Podiatric Medicine – with August 2009 as the target date for welcoming their inaugural classes. In conjunction with that academic expansion, the University in January 2008 broke ground on a $100-million campus expansion project that includes a 600-car parking garage; a Health Education Center to house the three new colleges and the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific; and a Patient Care Center to serve the medical needs of the people of Pomona and surrounding communities.
A ninth school, the Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences, welcomed its inaugural class in January 2010.
As WesternU’s campus expands, so does the University’s impact on the world of health-sciences education, through innovative programs like Interprofessional Education, which brings students from all nine of the University’s colleges together in the classroom, in small group venues, and in clinical experiences with patients. The goal is for WesternU graduates to demonstrate an understanding of other health professions and to provide and promote a team approach to patient care and health care management, leading to improved patient care.
WesternU is also making its mark far beyond the boundaries of the Pomona campus, thanks to the addition of a Pacific Northwest campus in Lebanon, Oregon, for COMP students in what is now known as the Northwest Track program. This campus, which broke ground in June 2009 as part of a Samaritan Health Services medical complex, is known as COMP-Northwest, and will welcome its inaugural class of 100 students in August 2011, growing to 400 students by 2014.
The University also contributes to the community in many ways. Students and faculty regularly donate their time and expertise at health fairs throughout the area, and are the driving forces behind the Pomona Community Health Action Team (PCHAT) and the Pomona Homeless Outreach Project (PHOP).
The University has also partnered with Pomona Unified School District and California State Polytechnic University, Pomona to create the Pomona Health Career Ladder. The Career Ladder identifies math and science scholars in Pomona schools, then will guide them through an undergraduate health/science degree at Cal Poly Pomona and into health professions programs at WesternU through a program-based network of outreach, guidance, mentoring, and financial assistance.
Regardless of how large WesternU becomes, the faculty, administration and students will not lose sight of the reason they are here. Since its founding, WesternU has built a rich tradition of academic excellence, patient-centered education, lifelong learning and professional leadership. “When a student examines a tissue sample under a microscope, it represents a human being,” said Dr. Philip Pumerantz, founding and current president of WesternU.
“That’s a person who has a family,” he said. “When you’re here in school, you will learn to care for human beings. You’re going to be a people person. That’s the philosophy of this university.”